Any savvy Internet user could pull up the original Sistas in the Pit classified ad by Googling "Ieela Grant": "B.P.P. The Black Pussy Project is looking for cool musicians. We are a ROCK/FUNK band. You must be black and have a real pussy. (Sorry fellas, and anyone else who this ad may offend. We luv you all...seriously!!!) For an audition/interview or more info, please contact: I'duble E-luv\ ieela. Auditions held Nov. 2nd."
Four years later, Grant's all-black-girl, hard-rock trio opens for Iggy Pop and the Stooges on a national tour that rolls in for a homecoming date at San Francisco's Warfield Theatre April 18. The band usually rehearses three times a week in a West Oakland loft or at their dim Tenderloin studio decorated with Christmas lights, old Lisa Lisa posters, and a refrigerator with pictures of Steel Reserve beer pasted on one side.
There the Sistas play hair-trigger guitar lines and scream lyrics like Liiiiiiiiaaaaar! and I feel this pressure inside of me / Feels like I wanna explode, which sound swaggeringly self-possessed and completely unhinged at the same time. Accentuated by her colorful Mohawk, drummer Grant sits in the ample rehearsal space and pounds a Ludwig Rocker drum set. Bassist Kofy Brown sports a large belt and blue Pumas; guitarist Anita Lofton's shirt has a small devil logo in the center.
Born in San Francisco to folk-singer parents, Grant taught herself to play drums at age 24 by pounding on pots, pans, dictionary-size books, and the side of her couch. She developed an ear for harmony playing flute and tuba in her school band, and later moonlighted in the Brazilian ensemble Fogo Na Roupa. She had always loved rock music everything from Zeppelin and Pink Floyd to the Kasey Kasem Top 100.
"I remember five or six years ago I had over a thousand CDs," the drummer says. "I'd be looking through them like, 'Where are my black women in rock?' Where are we? I couldn't go to Amoeba and ask, 'Hey, do you have any black women rockers?' I know I exist. I have friends who are like, 'We love the Counting Crows,' but it was all kinda hush-hush."
Her original Craigslist ad in 2003 elicited sixteen responses, though only a Bambi-eyed R&B singer with a kid showed up for the audition on Valencia Street. "She was very sweet," Grant says. "Not what we were looking for."
Unwilling to give up, Grant started going to karaoke bars in search of potential collaborators. After the BPP imbroglio, she invited to her bright pink Cole Valley flat friend Anita "Pa" Lofton, a house DJ who once played in a rock band called Exotic Lollipop; and bassist Brown, who'd fronted an indie soul band in the Bay Area since 1993. The three started jamming out, rechristened themselves Sistas in the Pit, and played their first show at 111 Minna in 2003.
"We had like seven songs that we created, no covers," Brown explains. "When they asked us for an encore we had to play the first song over again, 'cause we didn't have any more songs."
Dozens of shows and one LP later, Iggy Pop's bassist discovered the Sistas on MySpace, and now they're on tour. Part of their success has to do with their skill, but they also cultivate their anomalous image. Take the catchy song "Black Girl" and its lyrics: black girls rocking the microphone /ain't got no place to call our own. Or take their rich vocal harmonies and deeply hopeful lyrics, which link rock 'n' roll back to the blues. They aren't the first sistas to enter a mosh pit in fact, the band's name comes from lyrics by the now-defunct Los Angeles black-girl outfit, Strange Fruit but the Sistas are still one-of-a-kind. Brown says, "When Jello [Biafra] came to our show, he was like, 'I don't know any other all-black-girl rock 'n' roll band.'"
The downside can be outright fetish worship. Last fall they played the Pudong Music Carnival in Shanghai alongside a former Star Search winner and Georgia-based version of Bon Jovi. Lofton says the group got bumrushed by photographers every time they stepped outside: "If it started getting more than ten deep, we'd be like, 'Let's go!'"
With a second album in the hopper and a lot of mileage to be gotten from the Iggy Pop tour, the Sistas certainly won't be left out of the mainstream rock scene for much longer. But they still stand alone. Grant still looks through her thousands of rock CDs and finds not a single peer. "We're still looking," she says.
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